Superheroes have a long and appealing history in everything surrounding comics and even movies but their role in the gaming industry has had a lot to be desired… until now. There are very few exceptions that have managed to get some praise and Batman: Arkham Asylum is not only one of those exceptions, but probably the best superhero creation ever in the history of video games. It’s so good to see that the same love that has been put in the new Batman films is also present in the consoles. There are already thousands of Batman fans out there and every single one of them, and whoever isn’t one already, will undoubtedly feel very pleased knowing that Rocksteady studios has created a superhero game loyal to the Batman legacy while remaining self-reliant of its movies counterparts with a gameplay so intuitive, fun, and innovative that you will finally feel… Batman.
It’s so rare to find these days a superhero game that isn’t just a copy of the movie that has just been released. However, some of the charm that makes Arkham Asylum different from the rest is the fact that it doesn’t rely on what has happened in any of the movies. It is a story made exclusively for the game written by Paul Dini, a very familiar face of several DC animated series, and the result is probably what you might not expect after seeing how the Batman cartoons and movies have been carried out. It is definitely not something made to be cute as the whole atmosphere that comes from the environment, the characters and the story itself is a very dark one. Now the villains take their role of seriously bad guys to the limits by the use of a strong language and explicitly putting forth their wish to kill Batman for real. But, actually, this is not a bad thing; it totally helps the experience to feel even more real since it is based on an asylum.
Arkham Asylum starts with almost no background story. Batman has just captured Joker and taken him to the asylum as he has done with every other bad guy he has come across with. However, Joker seems extremely passive about the situation. He is not concerned about being captured, as if it was all planned. And actually, it was! Joker now sets free inside the building to complete his distraction and carry out his plan of destroying Gotham City while Batman is trapped in the Asylum as well. From this point on, after a just couple of minutes, you are in control of Batman’s movements to find Joker and the rest of his allies that will do anything (and they mean it) to stop you AND kill you.
As you can see, the whole plot might look a bit simple and it might also be true but the most important factor that makes it worth it is how its narrative is presented. Part of this accomplishment comes from the terrific voice acting of other familiar faces of Batman with Kevin Conroy as the Dark Knight, Mark Hamill as The Joker and Arleen Sorkin as Harley Queen. It’s really nice to see that the same people are being asked again to represent their characters because it makes the game feel connected to the whole Batman universe that is already known in the animated series. But these guys are not the only ones that know how to talk in an attractive way; essentially all of the remaining characters, including villains and even support characters, helps everything taste exquisite.
Right after you are free to start your journey across the asylum the main attraction in the game is instantly shown. This game is extremely focused on every single ability Batman has as an actual superhero. The first thing you will notice is the combat mechanics. Batman is well known for being quite a fighter face to face and this is where you can totally take advantage of it yourself. It’s a simple system, very few buttons are required to deliver fascinating combos and that makes it real easy to learn. Nonetheless, the real challenge comes in the form of many enemies at a time. You will still use the same mechanic of directing punches to a foe and use your reflexes to block the guy next to you that wants to punch you too. And just in case you get bored of that just wait until the enemies with guns arrive because that’s the moment when you will truly test your skills because Batman takes real damage from them.
Thankfully, Batman is not just all about martial arts. He is very well equipped with weapons that you can strategically use to get rid of enemies in a way they would never expect it, such as the Batarangs. But the Arkham Asylum is not only meant to fight fist to fist, as you will utterly feel in love with being a silent assassin clearing your way out from the shadows. All the gadgets he brings with himself let him sneak around using the Batclaw to attack from above and an explosive gel to reveal hidden paths and to harm nearby enemies as they pass by. To make things even more interesting, as you progress in the game you will earn enough experience to purchase more ninja skills and enhance your whole arsenal as well as your detective vision.
The detective vision is the last element that fulfills the totally-being-the-Dark-Night experience. Bruce Wayne’s “mental perfection” has always allowed him to be the best detective ever and you can see that through his eyes now. By using the detective mode, the whole place changes. Walls likely to be destroyed are light out, just as the characters that are foes in red and how many with guns are there and hidden secrets that you will definitely spend a lot of time on. The Riddler is the one that wants to test your detective skills and intelligence because he leaves secrets and collectibles throughout the whole island. With the use of riddles that pop up in the screen every time you visit a new room (and literally, every room) there are plenty of things to do on the asylum to distract with.
One last final touch worth mentioning is the fact that the studio has made this game accessible for newcomers of Batman’s story. Even with very little real plot, some of the collectibles that find around the island (and some thanks to The Riddler riddles) are some information about recognized characters both heroes and villains of the franchise with their story, their first appearance info and what they are doing today. You will also come across some recordings that reveal some additional background stories for some of the characters like Harley Quinn’s twisted story interviewing patients when she was one of the psychiatrists.
It’s evident the amount of support that one of the most acknowledged superheroes of the time has also been shown enough love to shine in the video game industry. Many already recognize it as the best superhero video game of all time and with utter justice. It’s good to be part of a story that is not only a copy of a movie. It is a fresh script made specifically for gamers to know what being Batman is all about. And it is done in a terrific way as all his skills that he is known for are implemented with extreme detail. It seems superheroes in video games still have a very promising chance to stay in the business.